Citizens within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) can expect to see a reduction in roaming charges by the third quarter of this year, as the region moves towards the Single ICT Space.
Prime Minister of Grenada, Dr Keith Mitchell hailed the February 23 signing of the Declaration of St George’s – Towards the Reduction of Intra CARICOM Roaming Charges, named after the capital of Grenada where it was signed. The other signatories were Kieran Mulvey, Director of Government Affairs, DigicelGroup and Kurleigh Prescod, Vice President South Caribbean, Cable & Wireless Communications.
“This declaration essentially means that our citizens will have options to use their mobile phones as they move freely within the Single Space at reduced costs. Our citizens will be able to travel without the fear of incurring the normal exorbitant charges for voice and data usage as they conduct business or keep in touch with loved ones. We firmly believe that this critical reduction in roaming charges will help drive digital commerce, regional integration and economic development, and will have an even greater impact when total elimination is achieved,” said Prime Minister Mitchell.
Dr Mitchell is the lead Head of Government responsible for Science and Technology in the CARICOM Quasi Cabinet and he is spearheading this initiative, following a mandate from Heads of Government of CARICOM.
It was agreed that the implementation timeframe is between the second and third quarter of this year, giving consideration to the technical aspects of implementation and the public awareness campaigns to take place.
In 2014, Heads of Government agreed to establish a CARICOM Single ICT Space, having recognised the critical role that information and communication technology play in the social, cultural and economic development. The Single ICT Space represents the digital arm of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).
The Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) said the Declaration will also facilitate the provision of seamless mobile (cellular) services, including voice, SMS text and data. The CTU estimates that CARICOM residents can save up to 70%.
Prime Minister Mitchell noted that both citizens and policy-makers, “welcome today’s declaration as it would make roaming charges more transparent, predictable and affordable within this Single Space.”
He added, “CARICOM must continue to deliver real and tangible, benefits for the citizens of this community. CARICOM must facilitate a space that is conducive to business and leisure – a space for free and easy movement of people, goods and services, including data-driven services, all within an enabling legal and regulatory framework that secures and protects consumers.”
HonMia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, who attended the signing virtually stated, “This a large step but we are short of our destination to eliminate roaming completely. Data bridges are absolutely critical and more so, as a result of the pandemic, we need to keep connectivity going. Data, information and connectivity must be cheap, must be available and must be fast.”
She continued, “CARICOM has negotiated with a local, regional and international industry as one, in the explicit pursuit of its single market and space. We must move on to the next steps of creating a single ICT regulatory environment in CARICOM and ensuring that the cost born by our citizens for telecoms services relate to the cost incurred by telcomms providers, and not have deemed rates of return that are outside the pockets of our citizens.”
Prescord stated that while Flow is pleased to answer the call of CARICOM, “and if we are to continue on this journey to reduce roaming rates and charges, we also need our partners in government to re-examine the level of license fees and universal service contributions and duties on taxes on network equipment infrastructure to allow us to pass on further reductions to…subscribers and nationals.”
Mulvey noted that “Today marks a significant initial milestone again on the roadway towards achieving a single ICT Caribbean space that is so vitally important not just for the social aspect of the economies and people of the Caribbean but for their economic development as well.”
Speaking of future plans for CARICOM, Dr Mitchell shared, “We have already commissioned a study with the support of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union on the impact of Over the Top services (OTTs) and Big Tech within the regional ICT sector. We have also, with the support of the International Telecommunication Union, commissioned a study on the establishment of a single ICT regulator for CARICOM.”
The signing was held at the Grenada Trade Centre annex.